The second thing was that she had one blue eye and one brown eye.
As to the rest of his childhood, he imagined that it had all happened, though what it was, exactly, he could not have said. The days and weeks had gone by, things must have been done and said, but what it all had been, he did not remember. Had not wanted to remember. None of it mattered, as far as he was concerned. So he believed.
He remembered that she had been a waitress or, at least, had worked in a restaurant. Maybe she was a cook, or a dishwasher. It didn’t matter. The end, for her, for all of them, was the same.
He did not remember his father at all. That particular man had slipped between the cracks of time, lost to his memory and his life. He didn’t matter either.
Kentaro remembered his mother struggling to make ends meet, remembered someone—who?—telling his mother she should move back to where she came from—though where that was, Kentaro did not know and did not ever bother to find out. He remembered his mother’s reaction and her steadfast refusal.
Suppose he comes back, she had argued. I need to stay here, so he can find us again.
Kentaro could only imagine that she had clung to her worn-out determination more out of habit than hope in the end. But it did not matter to him.
For Kentaro, his life began with a series of endings. His mother was just one more.
He was eight years told, sitting in third period math class. Ms. Spencer had just explained the properties of long division and was beginning fractions when the front office called the room. He watched, along with everyone else in the class, as her face changed from the mild, pleasant visage she always wore to one of sadness. Then she looked at him.
He remembered being in the main office, though he did not remember the walk there. He remembered the huddle of secretaries and the odd quiet that hung in the normally bustling room. He remembered the large, florid man who served as principal of the school oozing out of his office with the sole purpose of telling Kentaro that his mother had collapsed at work and died. He did not remember the man’s exact words, but that did not matter. It did not change anything.
They kept him there, trapped in that office with its bad news, when he would have rather returned back to class, picked up where he left off and none of this would be happening. He did not know how much time had gone by, but he did remember the social worker in the dark blue polyester suit who eventually came.
She broke the news to him again, and seemed to wait in a sort of gleeful anticipation to see him cry. He did not. He hated the woman on sight and could never tolerate government workers after that. Useless, vindictive twits with lives so bleakly miserable that their only joy was to see the misery they inflicted on others. He was glad only of the fact that he robbed her of her satisfaction that day.
He never returned to their apartment after that. He never saw his mother again. He did not know what had become of her; if she was buried or cremated or where her final resting place was.
On the ride from this ending to the next beginning of his life, Kentaro looked out the car window as the blurring landscape rushed by and could only think of one thing. He will not be able to find us. We are as gone as he is now.
And he wondered if his mother, with her tube roses and her different colored eyes, knew it yet.
* * *
The first foster home lasted for about six months. They expected servitude and groveling from Kentaro, and all he had for them was contempt.
The second and third foster homes lasted for about as long, and each time he was returned to the foster care program with heads shaking and mutterings of his defiance, inability to listen, and that he was a delinquent in the making. They did not trust him, they claimed, they feared for their lives, there was something wrong with him.
Psychological evaluations had been performed then, of course. He had been amused to read his file when an inexperienced therapist had left his file with him when she stepped out of the room to take a personal call.
They described him with words like “remote” and “detached.” He laughed out loud at the description of him being “emotionally unavailable.” Yes, for the particular shrink, he made sure he gave her the complete opposite of what she wanted from him. It was a game to him, for a while anyway. He had to make it that way. Otherwise, these people, with their smug self-righteousness who thought they could have a say in controlling him, actually would.
In the fourth foster home, he was met with fists and frequent beatings from his foster father, who apparently did not share his wife’s enthusiasm for rescuing strays, be it animals or children. Kentaro remembered the day vividly.
They stood by a rabbit’s cage, he and this man who hated him for no other reason than the fact that he was there. The man grabbed a rabbit and thrust the wriggling animal into Kentaro’s hands.
“You kill this rabbit now,” he said. “Just think of it as dinner.”
Kentaro looked down at the animal, who was squirming in his hands, just trying to get away. It had no notion of what its fate was. And he couldn’t do it.
A solid blow caught on the side of head. His ear rang from the force of it.
“What kind of pussy are you?” the man growled. “Just kill the damn thing.”
He didn’t want to. Kentaro just wanted to free the animal and himself.
Another blow landed across his face. He felt blood trickle down from his nose. He could taste blood in his mouth. He had no choice and cringed when he heard the animal give a scream as he broke its neck.
He ran away that night, but not before he opened the cages and set the rest of the animals loose.
The fifth home was neither good nor bad, but there was something about them that he just couldn’t tolerate. He ran again.
The sixth home held more abuse, which he took because he couldn’t fight back. He ran at the first chance he got.
The final home saw him receive the most severe beating of his life. It was also the first time he fought back, giving as good as he got. They pursued him for awhile, after he ran from them, then his file ended up as the foundation of an ever-growing paper tower at the corner of an overworked social worker’s desk.
She had neither the time nor the resources to fill out the paperwork. She would eventually find the file, look at the dates, quietly mark it “closed” and ship it to storage. Kentaro was now officially on his own. He was 15 years old.
* * *
He spent the days wandering, mostly. If he was lucky, he could get into a youth hostel or shelter that would feed him and give him a cot to sleep in. If he was not, then he found some secure corner to sleep in, though always with one eye open.
It was boredom that made him go so far out of his normal stomping grounds that day. It was fascination that drew him to the small airstrip just at the outskirts of the city. It was a blinding rainstorm that made him seek shelter in the hanger. It would be the airstrip’s owner who would throw him in the air and Kentaro would find that he could fly.
* * *
Buddy, Kentaro learned over time, was retired Air Force. He had been married, but they had had no children. It just worked out that way, Buddy said with a resigned shrug. The rest of his family—nieces and nephews of deceased siblings—were scattered around the globe, so he did not often see them. He now ran a repair shop of sorts for small aircraft. He also owned a couple of old planes, did the maintenance on them himself and tried to fly when time, weather, and his arthritis allowed, usually small jaunts, or a delivery of mail to smaller outlying islands, when he could.
That first day, however, Buddy found Kentaro asleep near the inside door of the hanger. He did not wake the youth up, but instead went back into the small shack serving as his home, and made breakfast for the boy. It was the enticing aroma of bacon and eggs that finally woke Kentaro.
He woke in alarm that he was not alone, but Buddy merely set the tray down on a work table.
“Chow’s here’n hot, if you want it,” he said before shuffling off to take up tinkering on the motor he had been working on for several weeks now.
Kentaro was starving, the smell was appetizing, but…he could not, would not trust anyone. It could be drugged, or poisoned….he had literally seen everything and anything go down on the streets…
Time went by and Buddy eventually stopped working long enough to walk over to where Kentaro was still standing, caught in his own indecision. He eyed the plate, then the skinny young man in front of him.
“If ya’ll aren’t gonna eat, son,” he said with deliberate care. “Then ya’ll grab that broom over there’n help sweep up ‘round here. Ya slept here, ya’ll can clean up in kind.”
Then he shuffled back to the motor, picked up a tool and began working again. Kentaro stood there a moment, then slowly, reluctantly, grabbed a piece of toast that sat on the plate’s edge, stuffed it into his mouth in three bites and began to sweep.
* * *
Within a few weeks, Kentaro and Buddy fell into a comfortable routine, with Kentaro helping Buddy in return for his room, such as it was, since he merely claimed a small corner of the hanger as his spot, and board.
It was only a matter of time before Kentaro began asking about the planes they fixed, quickly learning what there was to know about the mechanics of flying. At the first chance he got, Buddy brought him up in the air and found that the boy had good instincts and a light touch. He would be a hell of a pilot.
With Buddy’s encouragement, Kentaro not only received his pilot’s license, but also his GED diploma.
It would surprise no one, years later, when Buddy passed away and left the airstrip and its adjoining property with the small house on it to Kentaro. Kentaro had become the son he never had, whether Kentaro knew it or not.
* * *
Shortly after Kentaro’s 18th birthday, Buddy placed a call to an old friend.
“Yes, hello. This is Lieutenant Colonel William Barlett. Let me speak with Colonel Drake, please. Yes, thank you.”
A short pause.
“Hey, Keller. Buddy here. How’s it goin’? Good, good. Can’t complain. Listen, the reason I’m calling. I got a kid here you really need to meet…”
* * *
On his part, Kentaro kept his distance, as much as possible, from the other guys in his unit. Not because he didn’t like them, or thought himself better than them, or anything beyond the fact that he just didn’t want to be bothered. Buddy had told him about the military and about what he would face as a soldier in active duty. The only message Kentaro got loud and clear was that the less he knew about them, the easier it would be for him. All he had to concentrate on was becoming a soldier of war. The rest didn’t matter.
However, his distant demeanor and ice cold personality instantly put him at the top of hit list for pranks by the other guys, all of whom just wanted to see him crack.
It happened shortly after they had arrived and were assigned to their units, so the young men still did not really know each other. To Kentaro, it was the orphan asylum all over again. Even the chow was the same. He did the exact same things he did then when he arrived and was assigned a bunk.
The guy next to him was bitterly complaining about the hardness of the bunk and Kentaro gave his ranting no attention. Armans took exception to the slight and, a few days later, coerced two others into helping him replace Kentaro’s mattress with a cardboard box the same size and shape. They snickered and laughed as they made the switch, then ran out to join the rest of their squad, already at dinner.
When they returned that night, the three of them watched in a huddle from the doorway in eager anticipation as Kentaro headed to his bunk. They watched in absolute astonishment as he proceeded to get ready for lights out, then laid down on his bunk and began to read the newspaper. No collapsing of cardboard, no outrage. Nothing.
Bewildered, they walked into the room and went to their own bunks, all of which promptly collapsed under their weight. Those who did not pull the prank laughed uproariously, and, for those who looked, there was a slight smile of satisfaction on Kentaro’s face.
He had found out ahead of time, of course. It was actually just a piece of luck on his part that he had wanted to double check his schedule and was on his way back the barracks when he saw the three perpetrators sneaking away.
There were a few more attempts, each ending worse than the one before. No matter what they tried to plan, it always seemed as if Kentaro had the upper hand and no one was ever able to pull anything over on him. Eventually, they gave up and left him alone, which was all he ever really wanted in the first place.
* * *
He was amused, really. Nambu was from such a different sort of life from the rest of the recruits that he practically broadcasted it. Kentaro watched his discomfort at sharing such tight quarters with so many others. He was obviously never in a state-run orphan asylum, Kentaro thought darkly.
Then there was that prickly, fussy nature of his. Everything not only in order, but needing to be just so. Kentaro would watch as Jenkins…or maybe Dilts…would move something. Not take the item, just move it to a different spot. Nambu’s flustered reaction would always be the same and the guys would start cracking up in laughter within moments of Nambu finding the object and returning it to where he believed its proper place was.
One night, as he read the base newspaper, Kentaro felt as though he was being watched. Slowly he lowered the paper to find Nambu staring at him. He frowned. If there was one thing he did not like, it was that analyzing look Nambu would sometimes adopt. The look on his face right now. Made him feel like some damned specimen or something. It was the way all of those head shrinks used to look at him.
“Is there a problem?”
“No,” Nambu stammered and quickly dropped his gaze. It was with amused satisfaction that Kentaro snapped the paper back up.
* * *
All of his team members made it through the obstacle course. All but one. Kentaro raked his eyes over all of the obstacles, but couldn’t locate where Nambu could have gone. Then his eyes fell on the wall.
Kentaro ran back through the course and took a leap, then pulled himself up to the top. Sure enough, there was Nambu on the other side. With a curse and a sigh, Kentaro reached down and hauled Nambu up and over. Together, they ran the rest of the course. Their squad was dead last, but at least they all finished. Their drill sergeant, however, had been less than impressed and barked out his displeasure. Now Kentaro was stuck with Nambu and had no choice but to try to help him keep up.
“Why did you even go back for me?” Nambu asked during one of their first training sessions together.
Kentaro shrugged. “Leave no man behind. Isn’t that one of the things they’re always telling us?”
“I just did it, okay? Just accept that and go on.”
Kentaro could almost see the questions still in Nambu’s face, but he cut off any further discussions by handing Nambu two hand weights that Nambu could barely hold, never mind lift in a bicep curl. Nambu needed to gain upper body strength, and Kentaro was going to make damn sure he got it.
* * *
Nambu’s offer to join him in going home was a complete surprise. Kentaro would have preferred to stay on base and just prepare for flight training, but then Nambu became so insistent…
Besides, Kentaro had to admit, there was that small part of him that really wanted to see just what sort of lifestyle Nambu had really come from. He was not disappointed.
The house was clean and well appointed. His parents were well heeled and socially polished. In general, things were a little…antiseptic, Kentaro thought, narrowing his eyes at the scene before him, but at least no one was drunk, wailing, or throwing a punch. He could, he decided, become quite used to living like this. No wonder Nambu had had such a hard time adjusting to basic.
Kentaro knew his shortcomings, but he didn’t survive on the streets for as long as he had without knowing how to blend in. He mirrored everything Nambu did, at first. Then he moved up the food chain. Nambu’s brother, Ichiro, was guarded, staring him down almost from the first moment they met.
Kentaro mentally set him aside. No use wasting time on someone who wouldn’t be able to help him. Nambu’s father was polite, a bit bombastic at times, and completely self-absorbed. Kentaro watched him with interest, filing away the man’s small mannerisms and overblown attitudes that he thought might be of some use to him some day.
It was Nambu’s mother, however, who offered him the most. He greeted her by taking her hand and kissing the back of it, all the while murmuring small phrases of flattery that he had heard the guys at the base saying to impress the girls. She preened at the attention and practically fell over herself to welcome him. Kentaro nearly laughed out loud at the seeing the expression on Nambu’s face then.
Dinner that first night was a rough affair, but it taught Kentaro much.
“So you and Koza-kun are in the same unit?” Ichiro asked, slicing a glance up at him as he split and buttered a hot roll.
Kentaro watched him a moment before answering. “That’s right. We also belong to the same squad.”
“So what do you guys do, exactly? When you’re not playing at war games?” Ichiro asked callously, ignoring the look Nambu gave him. Kentaro was intrigued, though, as to why Nambu didn’t voice his displeasure, but kept it to merely a look.
“It’s hardly a game,” Kentaro responded quietly. “Some things need the attention of men who are able to protect those who can’t protect themselves.”
Ichiro’s face darkened with anger, and opened his mouth to reply, but his mother cut off Ichiro’s next comment.
“Tell me, Kentaro,” Nambu’s mother asked. “Why didn’t you go home to your own family? Surely they must have wanted to see you…”
Kentaro frowned. “No, ma’am,” he replied. “My parents died when I was young and I have no living relatives now.”
“Oh, you poor boy,” she crooned, placing her hand on top of his hand. “How tragic.”
Nambu’s father cleared his throat and shot his wife a look. She removed her hand from Kentaro’s with a smile.
The food was served, and Kentaro found it interesting to be served in a private home, as if one were at a restaurant. Not that he went to restaurants often. Or at all. He eyed the rest of them as they ate, gleaning the mannerisms, the expected actions. Some were already natural, while others left him baffled. Like the fact that they were all very careful to leave food on their plates. That just annoyed him, especially when he thought back to all of the nights when he slept just to escape the feeling of hunger.
In all, what he learned from his visit with Nambu was that as much could be said with silence, and with looks, as well as directly spoken. It was an interesting game that they all played, but he was not sure as to who the winners were. In fact, they didn’t even seem sure.
* * *
After basic, there was flight training, followed by officers training, all of which he did with barely a thought beyond wanting to just get into action and fly.
Kentaro slid into a seat in the classroom, the final class, the final step, before he would be officially on active duty. He didn’t notice those who filed into the room with him and didn’t care about them. He focused his attention on what had been left up on the teaching monitors at the front of the classroom. Kentaro barely registered the fact that someone took the seat next to him until he heard the young man speak.
“Good morning,” he greeted Kentaro with a slight bow, a friendly smile on his face. “This promises to be an interesting day, does it not?”
Kentaro frowned and did not reply. The instructor stepped up to the front and began the class. Kentaro put the young man and his comments out of his mind as he concentrated on what was being taught.
The next morning, however, and every morning after, the young man, Masaki as Kentaro later learned, persisted in sitting next to Kentaro, always greeting him in the same manner, heedless of the fact that Kentaro had still not said a word to him.
One day, near to the end of this class, they all filed in and Kentaro realized, as the instructor began, that Masaki, who had consistently sat beside him, was not there. He was surprised to find that he had come to look forward to this ritual of theirs, though he never said a word.
Midway through the class, the teacher paused for a break and they all stood and milled around, stretching their legs and their backs, grateful for the lull. Kentaro remained seated, flipping idly through one of the flight manuals, when Masaki slid into his seat.
“Good morning,” Masaki said, as he settled himself in the seat. “This promises to be an interesting day, does it not?”
Kentaro frowned, then answered. “You’re late.”
Masaki’s eyes widened in surprise, then his face crinkled with a laugh. “I’m honored you noticed. Did you miss me?”
Kentaro ignored that comment, but slid his notebook over and held it out. “You might want to review these, to catch up before Patterton gets back.”
Masaki took the proffered notebook with a smile and nod of his head. “Thank you. That’s very generous of you.”
“Where were you? Why are you late?”
Masaki looked up from his reading. “Oh, I had a meeting, an interview of sorts. Patterton knew about it, so I won’t be in trouble, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Kentaro turned away and fixed a stare at the monitors in front of them. “Who said I was worried?”
Masaki grinned and went back to his reading.
* * *
Kentaro pushed himself to be the best, which helped to bring him to the attention of his superiors. It did not endear him to those around him, but it eventually got him what he wanted—the chance to fly.
Once cleared for duty, he volunteered for every flight mission he could. Most shied away from the more dangerous ones, afraid of dying, of never seeing their loved ones again, but Kentaro didn’t have that problem. He only had one thing to lose, and he never saw his life as having much value to start with. The only one other pilot who would routinely offer himself as his wingman was Masaki.
Kentaro had been surprised to find that once they deployed, that he and Masaki were put in the same unit. Such things happened, but it was rare enough that made Kentaro wonder how it came about. He never asked Masaki about that meeting the day he was late, and Masaki never mentioned it, but Kentaro could not help but wonder. After awhile, Kentaro put it out his mind with a mental shrug. There were bigger things to worry about now.
However it had come about did not change the outcome, which no one could dispute—they made an unbeatable team in the air and their commander never hesitated at putting them out in front as their first line of defense.
As a result, with each successful mission completed, his reputation as a pilot grew. He was greatly chuffed the first time he walked by a bunch of new recruits and he heard one of them say to the others, “There goes Washio Kentaro, best damn pilot in the service.”
* * *
The years passed quickly and Kentaro was so engrossed in his flying that he was surprised to find, one day, that most of those he had known back when he had first enlisted had all gone on, their lives filled out, the military having been merely a stepping stone for them.
For reasons he did not know and could not name, this bothered him. He had not thought of doing anything beyond flying, but now that he was older, and everyone around him seemed so settled, he began to think in terms of a future.
With some negotiating, and the calling in of favors, Kentaro was able to work out a reserve arrangement wherein he would serve as a test pilot at an ISO research facility in Hontworl, which pleased him immensely. He wanted stability, and now he had a job that would not drag him to ports around the world, save for the times when he was called up as a reserve. He wanted a home and he got it. Even if not quite the home he envisioned, the apartment he found was still his, and everything in it he could call his own.
One day, as the cafeteria was full to overflowing, as it generally was during the days just before an air show, as this day was, he noticed a young woman standing in the middle of the foot traffic, holding on to her tray as if it were a life preserver. She darted looks around the room, unsure of where to go.
He watched her a moment, this pretty girl, and found it odd that she had no friends to call her over. When she looked his way, he lifted up his hand and waved to her. Her mouth turned down in a small frown and she glanced around the room once more. He watched her scan the room again and, when she turned back to look at him, he used his foot to push out the chair directly across from him. Kentaro felt inexplicably pleased with himself when she gave him a small smile and reluctantly walked over to his table.
“I’m so sorry to be such a bother,” she said, sliding into the chair he had pushed out. “I didn’t realize there would be so many people here….”
“Yeah,” he said, lifting up his sandwich. “It’s like this for every air show.”
“I guess I just wasn’t thinking…”
She smiled at him again, then dropped her eyes and paid extreme attention to putting the creamers and sugar into her tea and stirring it. “You could say that,” she finally said, still staring intently at the swirling tea in her cup. “I was hired as a replacement secretary for someone on maternity leave.”
“Ah. I’ll have to send the lucky parents a thank you card, then.”
She glanced up at him and smiled. He was beginning to really like the way her smile began in her eyes and ended at her lips. He was also trying to think of other things to amuse her, curious now to hear her laugh.
“You and me both. I like this work much better than medical transcription.”
“Is that what you did before coming here?”
“Mmm-hmmm,” she acknowledged as she bit into her sandwich.
“I guess now would be when I would tell you my name?”
She put down her sandwich. “I already know it,” she said shyly. “You’re Washio Kentaro.”
He grinned. He felt absurd. So ridiculously happy. She knew him. Or, at least, she knew his name. And, unlike all of the other girls he had ever had the misfortune of running into, she was not a giggling, flirting mess. She was thoughtful and pretty. Gentle and shy. With a smile that made his heart stop.
And she knew who he was and still sat down and talked with him anyway.
“I’m afraid, then, you have me at the disadvantage as I don’t know your name. Is there any way I could find out?”
She glanced up at him, blue eyes sparkling, her pretty mouth in a full smile that brought just the smallest of dimples to one of her cheeks. “You could always just ask, you know.”
* * *
He had everything he had thought he would have and more. For once, his life took on the sameness as everyone else’s. They had dated, then married, then found a house and had a baby. His life, as far as he was concerned, was complete.
Then his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer right around the time their son turned a year old. She went through treatment and Kentaro found most of the child care falling to him.
The best that could be said is that he tried. He tried his damnedest. Some things worked and some things, he found out the hard way, did not. His biggest problem was that, having had no father of his own, he had no idea as to how a father should act or what one would do. He was, yet again, on his own.
“Just love him,” his wife had suggested through her medicated haze.
And he did. He loved his son with all his heart, but to Kentaro, it still didn’t seem enough. He stumbled through the rest of the toddler stage along with his son. And, to his amazement, no matter how badly he screwed up, his son still loved him anyway. And as much as he loved that knowledge, it also secretly terrified him. How could he live up to such expectations when he had no clue as to what he was doing?
* * *
On the days that she was feeling well enough, he would carry his wife out to their lanai and together they would watch Ken play in their back yard. On the days that she didn’t, he would try to find some amusement for the boy away from the house, so she could rest undisturbed by their son’s youthful, noisy exuberance.
Kentaro would take Ken for long walks in the field surrounding their home, often carrying the child home on his shoulders when Ken became too tired to walk. At the suggestion of another ISO test pilot, Kentaro had gotten him a net and together they would search for butterflies and bugs.
At other times, Kentaro would take Ken down to the lake, where Ken would spend hours splashing at the water’s edge. One day, while Kentaro was watching his son, he happened to see other boys nearby, all of whom looked to be Ken’s age. They were all diving and swimming out to a small raft. Kentaro watched Ken for a moment and decided that the boy needed to learn how to swim.
It became something of a routine, then, with Kentaro and Ken going down to the lake on a near daily basis, Kentaro teaching him the basics of strokes and kicks.
When Kentaro was sure that Ken would be able to swim a short distance and would be able to stay afloat, he progressed to teaching the boy how to dive.
The boy stood on the rock, clearly unsure about the instruction and demonstration that Kentaro had just given.
“Come on, Ken,” he called out to him. “Just dive in and start swimming.” Kentaro waited as Ken still hesitated.
“Ken,” he called out again, this time waving his hand. “It’s alright. Just jump in and swim.”
Kentaro held his breath, and then, finally, watched as the boy jumped in and began swimming with all his might. The boy was out of breath from his exertions by the time he reached his father and Kentaro pulled him up and waded back to the shoreline with the boy in his arms.
They spent the entire afternoon diving off the rock, Kentaro leading, then beckoning to Ken to follow. There would always be a slight hesitation, but Kentaro was pleased that the boy did as he was told.
By the time they arrived back home, Ken was soundly asleep in Kentaro’s arms. He carefully placed the boy in his bed, then turned and immediately went in to their bedroom, eager to tell his wife about their son’s newest accomplishments.
* * *
They had just gotten the news that she had been one year cancer free, and she went out with girlfriends to celebrate (and she and Kentaro would have their own celebration later that night), when Kentaro received a call from someone he had not thought about in years.
Gathering up his son, they went to the air field and, together, they met Nambu. Though Nambu and Kentaro both worked for the ISO for a few years now, up until this point, Nambu had mainly kept to the research labs, letting those he was in charge of run the actual field tests.
Now, for whatever reason, Nambu was slowly becoming more hands-on and less willing to leave some of the more sensitive test trials to others. For all the time that had passed since they last saw each other, however, Kentaro noticed that, though Nambu had grown slightly more mature and was wearing glasses, he was still the same Nambu he remembered.
Kentaro smiled at the look of surprise on Nambu’s face when he caught sight of Kentaro carrying a small child.
“Someone actually let you watch their child?” he greeted them.
Kentaro laughed. “Considering this is my own son, yes.”
Nambu paused a moment, a funny look coming over his face. He was happy for Kentaro, of course he was, he thought. The man had been through a lot of shit in his life. He deserved some happiness. But what Nambu could not shake was why that bothered him. That Kentaro should be married and have a child, while he did not...
Nambu pushed the uncharitable thought away. He had made his own life decisions, including the one not to marry or have any children of his own. He could not hold that against this man who was finally coming into his own.
Nambu sighed and tried to find safer ground. “Have you heard from any of the guys? Merren or Dilts? Or Lofton? He was in your unit, wasn’t he?”
A fleeting look of sorrow crossed over Washio’s features. “Lofton died in an air strike, a few years ago, just before we were about to be discharged.”
The news hit Nambu like a physical blow. “What happened?”
Kentaro looked away from him, his eyes settling to focus on some point in the sky. “He knew the score, we had no choice. It was one of the last big offensive pushes, just before the peace treaty was signed.” He paused a moment. “He volunteered.” He gave a small, ironic laugh. “He knew it wasn’t something I really wanted to order him to do, but at that point, we had no choice.”
“There really wasn’t some other way?” Nambu asked quietly.
“No,” Kentaro said shortly. “There wasn’t and he knew it and I knew it and the whole friggin’ battalion knew it. That’s what happens in wars. You know that. We all know that going in. The sacrifice of one for the greater good of many, and all that. It’s what we told ourselves to believe in, that what we were doing in risking our lives for was actually making a difference, wasn’t it?”
Yes, Nambu acknowledged silently. It was. He had seen others from his old basic training unit fall, as well as those from the unit with whom he went on active duty. One sacrifice for the greater good of many. He never did like that particular saying.
Shaking off the feeling, they then turned the conversation over to the reason why he had called Kentaro in the first place. They looked at the jet to be tested, and discussed the systems he wanted tested, to what limits, and why. With that done, they set the date and time of the testing and they parted ways.
Kentaro walked away, his son chattering brightly about the planes by his side, and he was happy to have seen his friend once again, and to know that they would now be working together.
That feeling, however, would not last long.